Athletics mourns passing of Elanga Buala

The sport of athletics is mourning the loss of Elanga Buala, who passed away suddenly at her home in Butibam, Lae, on Thursday, January 7th.

Along with Iammo Launa and Barbara Ingiro-Sapea, Buala was, in 1984, one of the first women to represent PNG at the Olympic Games.

From a beginning in volleyball, Buala made the transition to athletics in 1981 when she won the Open Women’s 100m title at the National Championships in Mt Hagen. Overall, she won seven national titles: 100m (1981 & 1982), 200m (1982 & 1983) and the 400m (1982, 1983 & 1984), and won a total of 13 national championship medals in her career at the top.

Buala competed at the inaugural Mini South Pacific Games in Honiara in 1981, the Commonwealth Games in Brisbane in 1982; the Pacific Games and then the inaugural IAAF World Athletics Championships, held in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983; and the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

It was in 1983 when she had her first taste of individual success, winning the gold medal in the 200m and 400m events in the South Pacific Games in Apia, Samoa.

She also won gold in the 4x400m relay, silver in the 4x100m relay and bronze in the 800m. 

A great games for Buala however, 1984 was to be her crowning glory. She won the 100m at the inaugural North Queensland Games in Townsville, but saved her really special performances for the Los Angeles Olympic Games.

Prior to the Games, she competed in a warm-up meet in California at which she ran her fastest ever 100m time; 12.22 seconds which was a PNG National Record until Barbara Ingiro ran 12.19 ten days later during the Olympic Games.

In the Olympic Games themselves, Buala ran 24.82 seconds in the 200m which was to remain as the national record until 2006 when it was finally eclipsed by Mae Koime. (Today that time ranks 4th on the All Time Best Lists).

The 400m race saw her establish another national record, 56.82 seconds which stood until Mary Unido broke it in the 1993 MSPG in Port Vila. Thirty plus years after her last serious race, Buala’s times stand up very well against the current runners and those who succeeded her.

Buala and her teammate Barbara Ingiro-Sapea opened a new era in women’s sprinting in PNG. In 2015, she looked back on her start in the sport and what remained topmost in her memory was the strong support of her family, her coach, her village and her friends. They provided a solid foundation for the success that followed.

Press release